Black or White full movie review - An entirely inconsequential film
With the recent tragic and racially charged events in Ferguson, MO and New York City (just two among many other incidents throughout the country), discussion of race and race relations is as relevant today than it's ever been.
Black or White aims to add its two cents to the racial discourse and I ask this: Who's better suited to push the boundaries of the discussion on race in America than Mike Binder, a 56- year-old white man who directed the mid-90s perennial classic Blankman? I kid, I kid ? sort of.
Binder's surrounded himself with a first class cast, with Kevin "Draft Day" Costner leading the pack as Elliott Anderson, a newly widowed grandfather and primary caretaker for his 9-year-old interracial granddaughter, Eloise (played by the adorable and incredibly talented Jillian Estell). Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer plays Eloise's estranged paternal grandmother Rowena "Wee-wee" Jeffers much like you'd expect a character with that name to be played (read: sassy, tough-but- motherly, etc). Also on board is Anthony Mackie (Captain America: The Winter Solider) as Rowena's brother and high-powered attorney, representing both her and her son Reggie (Andre Holland), Eloise's absentee and troubled father. Mackie represents one of only two characters with any shred of common sense in the whole film, the other being Elliott's friend and law partner, Rick (played by comedian Bill Burr). Burr and Mackie are relegated to the sidelines for most of the film but when they do appear on screen it makes for some of the most interesting and least predictable moments in Black or White.
Elliott harbors a general hatred for Reggie, whom he holds personally responsible for the death of his daughter, Eloise's mother, during childbirth. This hatred extends outward toward the rest of Reggie's family, albeit in a much more diluted sense, which culminates in the narrative at the center of Black or White. With the death of Eloise's grandmother Carol, Rowena argues, the young girl needs to have a maternal figure in her life. Since this is a movie that eschews common sense whenever it's convenient to the plot, Elliott simply will not stand for something so ridiculous and rebuffs Rowena's attempts at reuniting the girl with the rest of her family. From there she seeks the help of her lawyer brother, her son comes back into the picture, and Elliott Anderson ? a high-powered attorney himself ? starts drinking heavily as their day in custody court draws nearer and nearer.
The first thing I noticed about Black or White, aside from the predictable beats that it landed on, without fail, every time, was how skewed and one-sided the film was in favor of Costner's flawed-but- righteous white grandfather. Whether he's doling out street life- lessons to the aloof Reggie or justifying his use of a certain word that had my audience clutching their pearls, Elliott Anderson is meant to be some kind of white hero who tells it like it is. Do ignore the fact that he's a raging alcoholic and, as the film suggests, iced the relationship with his daughter due to her sexual involvement with a black man. Also ignore the fact that Anderson is able to care for Eloise full-time due to his social and economic status and the freedom to take off work as he pleases. But please, please hold it against the black characters on the other side of the equation. They're not to be trusted or given any sort of pass for their moral indiscretions or lapse in responsibilities. Reggie, in particular, is demonized and painted as helplessly flawed, a black hole of a man who brings down everyone in his orbit. If it weren't for the top notch performances, these frustrating characters would sink the film entirely before the plot could do it for them.
Let's talk about that plot, shall we? Without wandering too far into spoiler territory, I can say that not only does this film's plot go everywhere you'd expect it to, it does so in a downward spiral the likes of which I haven't seen in some time! Things actually start off fairly promising! The relationship between Elliott and Eloise is already established, so we avoid any unnecessary and drawn out origin tales of the events leading up to Carol's death. Despite not knowing how to brush his granddaughter's hair or that she needs to brush her teeth (huh?), this feels like a true grandfather-granddaughter relationship based off the wonderful chemistry between Costner and Estell. But once the rest of the cast starts dropping by for a swim, things start going South by the minute. Every time you're fooled into investing yourself into the film, emotionally, Binder's direction does an about-face and reminds you, "Hey! This is a movie!"
Characters do mind-boggling things for the sake of pulling at your feelings but in the case of Black or White, rather than inciting tears or concern, it usually only manages to elicit annoyance and eye rolls. There are deus ex machinas, horrific music cues, pointless flashbacks, the works! The third act falls apart quite spectacularly with not one, not two, but three courtroom speeches in which I was left wondering, "What point were you trying to make, exactly?" And that sentiment carries all the way back to the beginning of Black or White. What is the point of this movie and for whom was it made? Again, I'm avoiding spoilers but simply put ? there's no reason for this film to exist. Not only does it add nothing to race conversation, it adds nothing to anything at all. Black or White is an entirely inconsequential film.